Thursday, February 22, 2007

Start Me Up

Entergy has plans in the works to replace its existing generator in New Orleans East with a new generator in St. Charles Parish.

Hurricane Katrina downed power lines, flooded substations and even killed Entergy's backup generator at the Patterson Plant in eastern New Orleans.

Except for one power plant at Waterford in Taft that remained up during and after the storm, the regional power grid could have gone dark even longer than it did.

Now, Entergy is planning to replace its flooded backup generator at Patterson with a new "black start" unit at the St. Charles Parish site that will be called Waterford 4.

In the event of a future major catastrophe in which all of Entergy's power plants go down, the 33 megawatt diesel-powered unit would be used to power up Waterford 1 or 2, which in turn would supply power to the grid to bring up other power plants.

Power plants "don't have an ignition switch," said Mike Twomey, vice president of regulatory affairs for Entergy Louisiana. "They have to have electricity from another source."

The $10 million purchase and installation of the generator should be complete in October. If approved by the Louisiana Public Service Commission, costs for the backup will be passed onto Entergy Louisiana customers, adding up to 10 cents a month to a typical customer's bill, Twomey said.

Entergy decided that repairing or replacing the black start unit at Patterson was not an option and chose Waterford as a better site because it is less vulnerable to flooding and hurricanes, according to company documents filed with the PSC.

Since Katrina, Entergy's customers in southern Louisiana have been without a local backup source of power. If a Katrina-like storm wiped out the region's power, Entergy would have to rely on power brought in over transmission lines from outside the area to restart the local grid.

"It's not the preferred alternative," Twomey said of such a backup plan. "It's not as reliable in the event transmission lines are damaged."

No one at Entergy could recall ever using the black start unit that was located at Patterson, said Chanel Lagarde, an Entergy spokesman.

Entergy already has purchased and received the used $3.2 million generator. Because of the high demand for emergency power, especially in the Middle East, similar new generators cost $16 million, according to Entergy's filings with the PSC.

The generator will be located in existing facilities on the Waterford site in Taft. Twomey said that in the future Entergy might consider using the generator to meet peak electricity demand, but that would require approvals from the PSC and from the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Entergy has asked the PSC to rule within 120 days on whether it can recover its costs for the generator by charging customers.

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